The harassment, abuse, and assault of women is now rightly being discussed by all kinds of people. It is high time that this is becoming front and center to public awareness. Far too many times, and for far too long women have endured shaming silence, too afraid to talk for a whole host of reasons in all kinds of contexts from the workplace, the home, and the church. There are also far too many places where women are not being taken seriously and are dismissed with no policies, procedures, and protocols in place for them to have any recourse. That needs to change.
Let’s define some terms when it comes to violence against women so that we are on the same page:
Harassment – Any unwelcome advances or requests for favors or any conduct of a sexual nature which intimidates, bullies, or affects a woman’s ability to work effectively, worship joyfully, or live without fear of being blacklisted.
Abuse – Any intent by a boss, church leader, spouse, or person in authority to intimidate or control either by threat or by use of physical force on a woman, her children, and/or her property by inducing fear.
Assault – Any act in which someone sexually touches a woman without her consent, or coerces, or physically forces her to engage in a sexual act against her will.
The United Nations Declaration on the Elimination of Violence Against Women states, “violence against women is a manifestation of historically unequal power relations between men and women… and, violence against women is one of the crucial social mechanisms by which women are forced into a subordinate position compared with men.”
Harassment, abuse, and assault of women, whether in speech and/or action, is violence. We need to put it in those persons so that we can unequivocally say without hesitation in our words and policies that there is a “zero tolerance” for violence of any kind here.
Sometimes churches are the last to develop the needed language and protocol for dealing with violence against women. Many times, the church is the perpetrator through twisted webs of family-based power, clerical abuse, board indifference, biblical misinterpretation, and outright denial. That needs to change.
This need for change is why I am pleased my own Christian denomination, The Reformed Church in America, through its Women’s Transformation & Leadership Commission, has crafted a well-written statement on the subject. I am providing a partial text of the document here, with a link to the full text it at the bottom. Also, I provide a link to The Christian Reformed Church in North America’s Safe Church program, which helps churches implement safe practices, policies, and procedures.
A call to the church to end harassment, abuse, and sexual violence against women and girls
From the earliest story of our faith, God has painted a picture of a reality in which women and men together reflect the image of God. In Genesis 1:26-27, God establishes a vision—a vision God calls very good—of a world where men and women alike are treated with dignity, respect, and love as people created in God’s image.
And yet, not long after that vision was cast, an insidious narrative took its place. For far too long, women and girls have been victims of harassment, abuse, and sexual violence rather than being treated with the dignity God intended for them. Women have shared their stories of pain, only to have those stories fall on ears that did not wish to hear. Many women who dared to speak have been mocked and vilified.
A culture of shame and secrecy has stifled the voices of countless others (men and boys included). These people have not felt safe to share their stories because of the very real fear that their lives would be destroyed by those in positions of power. This culture has begun to shift in recent days and weeks, and we in the church are obligated to listen and respond.
We find ourselves in a pivotal moment. Social movements like the women’s march or the hashtags #timesup and #metoo show that people are grappling with how to respond to these stories of pain. Each story of #metoo has reverberated in hearts, in lives, in communities, and throughout the world. These stories have even come from within the church, which we see with the hashtag #churchtoo.
We believe the church must find its voice and speak….
If we keep silent, we are complicit in the continued dehumanization of women and girls.
If we keep silent, we fail to be coworkers with Christ in the renewal of the world and of the relationships between men and women.
If we keep silent, we ignore God’s call to be agents of change committed to ensuring that all people are treated with dignity.
We are speaking because we are committed to standing with and for women and girls who have experienced harassment, abuse, and sexual violence.
We are speaking because we are committed to seeking healthy ways for men and women to live and work together.
We are speaking, even if words fail us and our anxieties leave us uncertain about what we can do.
We are speaking because of our Christian convictions and because of the kind of world in which we want to live. When one part of the body is mistreated, the whole body is mistreated. When one person suffers, we all suffer.
We, as women and men, as children of God, as a church, courageously stand together against any word, deed, or policy that diminishes the dignity of women and girls in our communities….